University of Law to bring in aptitude test for its BPTC

Avatar photo

By Alex Aldridge on

Oral and written test will be introduced next year


The University of Law is to launch a new aptitude test to restrict entry onto its Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).

The test will feature a 40-minute opinion writing section, a five-minute advocacy assignment and a face-to-face interview with a barrister designed to gauge students’ commitment to the bar and understanding of what is expected of them. It is to be introduced from next year. Candidates will also be assessed on their prior academic achievements.

Course designer Lynda Gibbs, who the University of Law brought in from Kaplan in May, told Legal Cheek that the test is “designed to attract the best students who will have the best chance of getting pupillage”.

After a bright start, the respected Kaplan BPTC — whose aptitude test has been Gibbs’ model — failed to prove sustainable as top students began to shun the law school in favour of discounted places at rival providers. But the refusal to take candidates who didn’t have a hope of getting a pupillage — a practice indulged in by other BPTC providers — won Kaplan lots of goodwill, and for a while saw it develop a high end reputation as the place to be for wannabe barristers.

Clearly, the University of Law is hoping it can enjoy this upside, with its much bigger scale than Kaplan — in the UK at least — potentially giving it better insulation from setbacks.

But some commentators have suggested that the test could be a strategy to deal with what many see as a declining market, with BPTC numbers expected to fall in the longer term as a shrinking criminal bar sees pupillages become even scarcer.

Reacting to the news, UCL legal academic Professor Richard Moorhead told Legal Cheek:

“The voluntary shrinking of the BPTC may reflect underlying economics or a longer term bet on the significance of the bar qualification in domestic and world markets. Or both.”

But Gibbs disputes this argument, pointing out that BPTC enrolment numbers have remained fairly constant over the last few years despite falls in pupillages.

“This not an acknowledgement that we are expecting numbers to fall,” she said.

There were 438 pupillage registered in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available. In the same year, 1,732 students enrolled on the BPTC. Over the last five years, BPTC enrolments have remained broadly the same, while pupillages have dropped by around 20% (in 2008 1,749 students enrolled on the BPTC and there were 562 pupillages).